I heard recently that a friend of mine had died. He wasn’t a ‘close friend’ but a friend no less. Our paths crossed when I commenced working with my current employer. We formed part of a support team for a group of younger people with an intellectual disability. On Fridays we would cram into a bus and would go out on what is best described as an ‘outdoor adventure’. Our preference was for more isolated locations so the guys could let off some steam. My friend was well suited to the role of support worker. His chatty, light-hearted approach put everyone at ease.
My friend wasn’t without his struggles. His life had known times of joy and heartache. He was a person who felt deeply and could be hurt by people’s insensitivities. He knew dark times, lonely times, when he descended into the pit of depression.
He was one of a number of people who came to visit us after Adam’s death. He didn’t come with a recipe for recovery but with a readiness to share our hurt. He was well qualified to offer comfort as he understood the challenges of mental illness. He could appreciate the confusion and desperation of our son as he sort to make sense of his life.
I came across a photo of my friend yesterday. He was standing with his arms around two of the young people we supported. The backdrop was a spillway. Recent flooding rains had filled the reservoir and there was a torrent of water pouting over the wall.
This wasn’t a contrived photo where you bribe people to cooperate. Everyone was happy to be there, in the moment. There was no differentiation between worker and the supported.
There is much talk in disability circles about the concept of ‘inclusion’. At its most basic we are all ‘in’. There is no ‘other’. We need this same mindset when thinking of people with a mental illness. We are all ‘in’. There is no ‘other’. Our best work is done when we can identify with what someone else is experiencing; when we can enter their world whilst retaining our footing.
We are often afraid of mental illness and the symptoms that come with it. As a result, we don’t know what to do with our own level of discomfort and our fears for safety, or we just don’t want to be inconvenienced. Ed Stetzer